Howell did not go as far as to agree that journalists employed by the state are granted all of the same protections as private-sector journalists, but she did reject Pack’s argument that federal journalists have no First Amendment rights. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's Grayson Clary called the ruling a "victory."
The ninth circuit reinstated a lower court's injunction exempting journalists and legal observers from general dispersal orders. Many reporters say they have been assaulted by federal agents despite remaining several feet away from protests.
A supporter of President Donald Trump attacked a photojournalist on September 30th, a few hours prior to a Trump rally in Duluth, Minnesota. Dymanh Chhoun, a reporter on assignment for CBS local channel WCCO-TV, was covering a gathering of Trump and Biden supporters on a public road outside of Duluth.
Josie Huang, a reporter with NPR affiliate KPCC, was tackled and arrested while covering a protest on Saturday, September 12th. Huang had been attending a press conference about the shooting of two Sheriff’s deputies in Compton earlier that day.
Hours after the story broke that the Pentagon was planning to close Stars and Stripes, Donald Trump tweeted that he would not allow the newspaper to get shut down. The tweet took some by surprise, not only because the President is not known for defending the press, but because it was his administration's 2021 budget that had cut the newspaper’s funding in half.
In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth Circuit wrote that the lower court’s restraining order was too broad because it failed to specify who qualified as a journalist or legal observer. In previous hearings, the federal government had argued that differentiating between journalists and protesters was especially difficult given that some protesters wear press insignia to avoid the police’s crowd control tactics.
The judge extended a preliminary injunction prohibiting federal agents from "arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force" against journalists or legal observers. An attorney working with the ACLU on the case called the court's decision "a crucial victory for civil liberties and freedom of the press."
The district judge rejected the notion that journalists had no legal right to remain in an area where officers had issued an order to disperse. "Without journalists and legal observers, there is only the government’s side of the story to explain why a ‘riot’ was declared and the public streets were ‘closed’ and whether law enforcement acted properly in effectuating that order,” the judge wrote.